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by [?]

Mrs. Thomas, the Corinna of Dryden, in her Life, has recorded one of the delusions of alchymy.

An infatuated lover of this delusive art met with one who pretended to have the power of transmuting lead to gold; that is, in their language, the imperfect metals to the perfect one. The hermetic philosopher required only the materials, and time, to perform his golden operations. He was taken, to the country residence of his patroness. A long laboratory was built, and that his labours might not be impeded by any disturbance, no one was permitted to enter into it. His door was contrived to turn on a pivot; so that, unseen and unseeing, his meals were conveyed to him without distracting the sublime meditations of the sage.

During a residence of two years, he never condescended to speak but two or three times in a year to his infatuated patroness. When she was admitted into the laboratory, she saw, with pleasing astonishment, stills, cauldrons, long flues, and three or four Vulcanian fires blazing at different corners of this magical mine; nor did she behold with less reverence the venerable figure of the dusty philosopher. Pale and emaciated with daily operations and nightly vigils, he revealed to her, in unintelligible jargon, his progresses; and having sometimes condescended to explain the mysteries of the arcana, she beheld, or seemed to behold, streams of fluid and heaps of solid ore scattered around the laboratory. Sometimes he required a new still, and sometimes vast quantities of lead. Already this unfortunate lady had expended the half of her fortune in supplying the demands of the philosopher. She began now to lower her imagination to the standard of reason. Two years had now elapsed, vast quantities of lead had gone in, and nothing but lead had come out. She disclosed her sentiments to the philosopher. He candidly confessed he was himself surprised at his tardy processes; but that now he would exert himself to the utmost, and that he would venture to perform a laborious operation, which hitherto he had hoped not to have been necessitated to employ. His patroness retired, and the golden visions resumed all their lustre.

One day, as they sat at dinner, a terrible shriek, and one crack followed by another, loud as the report of cannon, assailed their ears. They hastened to the laboratory; two of the greatest stills had burst, and one part of the laboratory and the house were in flames. We are told that, after another adventure of this kind, this victim to alchymy, after ruining another patron, in despair swallowed poison.

Even more recently we have a history of an alchymist in the life of Romney, the painter. This alchymist, after bestowing much time and money on preparations for the grand projection, and being near the decisive hour, was induced, by the too earnest request of his wife, to quit his furnace one evening, to attend some of her company at the tea-table. While the projector was attending the ladies, his furnace blew up! In consequence of this event, he conceived such an antipathy against his wife, that he could not endure the idea of living with her again.[1]

Henry VI., Evelyn observes in his Numismata, endeavoured to recruit his empty coffers by alchymy. The record of this singular proposition contains “the most solemn and serious account of the feasibility and virtues of the philosopher’s stone, encouraging the search after it, and dispensing with all statutes and prohibitions to the contrary.” This record was probably communicated by Mr. Selden to his beloved friend Ben Jonson, when the poet was writing his comedy of the Alchymist.

After this patent was published, many promised to answer the king’s expectations so effectually, that the next year he published another patent; wherein he tells his subjects, that the happy hour was drawing nigh, and by means of THE STONE, which he should soon be master of, he would pay all the debts of the nation in real gold and silver. The persons picked out for his new operators were as remarkable as the patent itself, being a most “miscellaneous rabble” of friars, grocers, mercers, and fishmongers!